Alexander and Bucephalus, c. 1859-1861
graphite, watercolour and oil on tan laid paper, mounted on cream wove paper
51.4 x 38.2 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 39657)
This large sheet is one of the earliest known works by Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas. A more developed version exists in the form of an unfinished painting in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The artist was inspired by the passage from Plutarch's "Lives" that relates an episode from the boyhood of Alexander the Great.
Under the eyes of his father, King Philip of Macedon, Alexander meets the challenge of taming the horse Bucephalus, who is considered too wild to be ridden. Noticing that the horse shies away from his own shadow, the young man turns him to face the sun and thus succeeds in mounting him. Surprised at this accomplishment, King Philip spurs his son to seek a kingdom of his own. Bucephalus will become Alexander's faithful steed, accompanying him on his campaigns in Greece, Persia, Egypt, and lands farther east.